(NEW YORK) — Zion Williamson knows he’s likely to be the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. But for now, the equation is simple.
“I just want to hoop,” he said.
Williamson, who will turn 19 a week after the draft, spent the 2018-19 collegiate season blowing people’s minds as a 6-foot-7, 280-pound athlete at Duke University. He wore a warm smile, already immortalized as a meme during his college career, and a sense of anxious anticipation as he sat down with Robin Roberts for an interview airing Wednesday on ABC News’ Good Morning America.
“It’s crazy, honestly, you know, I never saw myself as being a top-3, top-4 pick and for people to think that I could go [No.] 1, it means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s showing that my hard work is paying off, but I just want to get drafted period.”
The New Orleans Pelicans hold the top pick when the draft gets underway just after 7 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
No one expects any name other than Williamson’s to be called first.
“I don’t play basketball for the money; it was the last thing I thought of when I was a little kid,” Williamson said. “When I was a little kid, I looked at my mom, stepdad, said, ‘I want to be an NBA player,’ just because I love to play the game of basketball like 24/7.”
The power forward averaged 22.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game as a freshman on his way to be named Associated Press national player of the year. His family has said he never seriously considered returning to the school.
Sitting with him backstage on Thursday will be his family.
“They were the first ones to see something in me, that I didn’t even see in myself, so I’m glad I can have my family with me along this journey,” Williamson said.
The forward has already earned one-name status, like LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, who he could join as fellow No. 1 overall picks.
“Those are big shoes to fill, but I’m not looking to fill those, I’m just looking to be the best Zion I could be,” Williamson said.
Ironically, the only hiccup in Williamson’s sterling career came as a result of shoes. The star’s Nike basketball shoes couldn’t hold up to the nearly 300-pound athlete, literally tearing apart during a game against rival North Carolina in February. He missed the final six games of the regular season with a resulting knee sprain, but returned in the conference tournament and looked like his dominant self in three NCAA tournament games.
He readily admits that there will be nerves as he’s sitting in the green room, despite his almost certain pick as the top overall player.
“I’m probably going to be super nervous. Hopefully I don’t trip and fall when I walk across the stage,” Williamson joked. “I think it’s going to be a lot of emotions, especially if my name gets called, I don’t how I’m going to feel. I don’t know if I’m going to cry, just smile, I guess I’ll see Thursday.”
But there is one thing Williamson can be content knowing he’ll be able to say for certain after first dreaming about it as a 5-year-old playing on a miniature hoop.
“I will be excited to finally say that I’m an NBA player,” he said.
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